School discipline and safety

Oh boy, the president’s panel on school safety has completed its report and recommendations. As this article indicates, the report includes recs to arm at least some teachers – wow, to me, that has unintended consequences written all over it – and, in all likelihood, those recs will receive most of the attention.

But, it’s the recs pertaining to exclusionary school discipline (i.e., out of school suspensions and expulsions) and the suggestion to remove advisories to schools, prompted during the Obama years, regarding the use of “restorative justice” practices, that get my attention.

In short, as described in the article, the guidance provided to schools to use restorative justice practices, when appropriate and safe which, by the way, applies to the vast majority of school misbehavior incidents, created some sort of hesitancy in schools to discipline students with serious behavioral, even violent tendencies.

Frankly, the schools and officials saying this have not been a part of “school justice partnership” efforts (e.g., those in Charlotte and other areas of North Carolina, Philadelphia PA, among others) that have shown you can safely keep so many kids, whose misbehaiors are most often not serious, in school where they belong. And, by keeping these students in school, you prevent so many problems that occur when you push students out due to zero tolerance overreaction and punitive responses.

It appears at least part of Devos’s report has particularly focused on the Parkland HS shooting as a barometer for recommending the shift away from restorative justice practices, which by the way, represent only one, albeit effective, resource in the options schools should have to safely respond to minor student incidents.

For more serious student behaviors and students who are demonstrating danger to others, building strong relationships with local law enforcement, probation, and community mental health providers, at a minimum, are absolutely critical. Just kicking troubled students out of school without really thinking about what needs to happen WHILE they are suspended or expelled, well, that’s not smart.

Just to clarify, the Parkland shooter was expelled from school. If DeVos’s group is suggesting a reversion to more so-called zero tolerance school discipline policies which will result in more kids facing exclusionary discipline – e.g., just kick them out and then don’t do anything after you kick them out – we will see continuing problems.

Keeping as many kids in school as possible, safely, prevents so many long term problems, but you also have to support students in need. And yes, this is often complicated and messy stuff – it ain’t a perfect science to know which students pose the greatest risks – but a return to punitive practices that push more students out of school, and not encouraging schools to engage, learn, and use restorative practices? That is likely to prompt more out of school suspensions and expulsions.

So, what do I also hope to find in Devos’s report? In brief, strong recs that prioritize the need for more school counselors and resources for those in need that can prevent incidents from escalating. Listen, most kids who get in trouble at school get in trouble for … being kids! … If Devos’s group is pushing toward a return to “get tough” policies that make some of us feel good, or that emphasize things like arming some teachers … We will see what impacts that all has.

Listen, I totally get the need to protect students from those who are truly dangerous, and I strongly empathize with teachers and others on the front lines who have to make discilinary calls. But, let’s be clear. The vast majority of kids who get in trouble in school can and should stay in school. Kicking more kids out is only asking for more trouble.

Of course, I could be wrong … Can’t wait to read the full report.

One thought on “School discipline and safety

  1. When I was teaching we used to call suspensions “special vacations. “. Kids would hope to be suspended. It just meant more work for the teachers to make up homework packets that the kids would not do. I’m all for manual labor. Screw up at school, clean classrooms and pick weeds for a week. That shit works.


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